Forum on road plan in Wilton
WILTON – The Route 101 corridor didn’t grow as much as was predicted in 1990. The population is getting older and the infrastructure is aging. What is now needed in the area?
On Thursday, June 9, several members of the Nashua Regional Planning Commission hosted a forum to discuss a 10- to 20-year road and infrastructure plan, the first of three scheduled in the area. Ten people attended from Milford, Merrimack, Mason, Lyndeborough and Mont Vernon, as well as Wilton.
Executive Director Tim Roache moderated the meeting. The NRPC is the local administrator of federal programs, he said, and the focus "is on the state’s 10-year highway plan and beyond. We are required by federal law to look beyond that, to 2040."
The NRPC study of the corridor looked at several areas, he said, including the aging population, public transportation, commuter rail, bicycle lanes, sustainable funding methods, improved east-west travel, ways to manage traffic and to promote economic growth, ensuring public health and protecting the environment.
"Our goals are increased mobility, system sustainability, quality of life and implementation," Roache said.
Studies made in the past were used in the current program for comparison.
"They were based on the assumptions of the time," he said, "and the high growth predicted didn’t happen."
Forum member Jennifer Czysz said, "Population is the No. 1 driver. We aren’t seeing the rate of growth as in the past. No one predicted the recession."
The current growth rate for most of the area is about 4 percent, she said.
"The median age is about 45, and there are more age-restricted communities," Czysz said. "And there are pockets of underserved people, low-income and those without vehicles. Without a means of transportation, they can’t get to jobs."
The NRPC study also looked at where the growth is and at sensitive areas such as endangered species, farmlands, conserved/conservation lands and wetlands. It was agreed that the problems are regional.
Another study concentrated on commuters: where people live and where they work, and what routes they take. Nashua, Manchester and the Boston area are the top destinations, although, she noted, "More people seem to be working nearer home."
Public transportation was discussed at length. Only Nashua has regular buses. On-demand services such as Souhegan Valley’s "blue bus" do not reach into the smaller towns, leaving elderly and handicapped residents to rely on other volunteer services.
Bart Hunter, of Wilton, asked about rail. Transportation "is a regional problem," he said. "Why was a rail study left out the state budget again?"
He also commented the proposed widening of Route 101: "There should have been an east-west highway years ago. It needs to be built all the way to Chesterfield. We need to find more ways to fund (highway projects), like an income tax. Our population is aging and our property taxes are going up."
State Sen. Gary Daniels, of Milford, asked about public-private partnerships.
Roache said they were possible for any kind of transportation project.
Another concern of those present was the condition of Route 101 in west Milford, from the former green bridge to the Irvin station. A central turning lane is under consideration, as is the reopening of Jones Crossing Road for east-bound traffic. Daniels said the Milford selectmen will be talking to the railroad about the possibility, since it would require another crossing.
"The state DOT wants to know what your needs are, what the towns are investing in," Czysz said.
State Rep. Carol Roberts, of Wilton, said, "We are talking about things to repair and refurbish. We need to think about the future. People don’t want to come and live out here" because of the road conditions. "People don’t want cars," requiring public transportation. "We don’t have the same problems we had 10 years ago."
Nelson Disco, of Merrimack, commented on the constant need to repair bridges.
"There are better ways to build bridges," he said, "and we need to fix the bottleneck areas along 101."
Roache said improving the intersection of Routes 114, 101 and the Manchester b-pass in Bedford is on the list, as is another Merrimack River crossing in Merrimack to relieve traffic pressure in Nashua.
Forums are scheduled in Milford on Thursday, June 16, and in Hudson on Thursday, June 30. Forums are from 6-8 p.m. and are open to the public.